My husband is a member of BAFTA, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, which means we get DVDs of most films nominated for awards. So, for weeks during December and January, we dutifully watched and watched the movies that had received the biggest buzz. Our critical opinion? Most of those films, including those nominated in numerous categories for both the British and the American Academy Awards, are so-so at best, even when seen curled up on the couch, in the comfort of your own home.
Brokeback Mountain, for all its high-powered promotion, is slow and unbelievable. Would those gay-but-wary cowboys really have greeted each other so passionately out in the open? Surely not in the days when they were supposed to be terrified of even peeking out of the closet door.
For some reason, Steven Spielberg’s Munich tries, clumsily, to be even-handed–and ends up simply muddled. George Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck is simplistic, self-congratulatory, and manipulative. And frankly, if Ed Murrow had really looked like David Strathairn, who plays him in the movie, Bill Paley–no fool he–would have told him to stick to radio reporting. Honestly, a lot of Murrow’s appeal was his slick good looks, not his liberal high-mindedness. (It was his charm that was so necessary for interviewing movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe on a fanzine-type TV show called Person to Person. Priggish Strathairn could have frosted up even Marilyn.)
By the way, George Clooney’s other movie, Syriana, for which he has a Best Supporting Actor nomination, is anti-American propaganda and nothing more. But then so is Crash, a nasty little flick that portrays the Los Angeles Police Department as storm troopers in squad cars. I was surprised the Horst Wessel Lied song wasn’t part of the soundtrack.
The British flick The Constant Gardener, another dumb one, as muddled as Munich, has a ditz as the noble heroine, while the villains are the usual suspects, money-grubbing international drug companies.
I guess you can understand why watching movies, even for free, turned out to seem like a chore. But just the other night, after we had done our duty, we watched a movie that has gotten virtually no attention and an Academy Award nomination only for Best Supporting Actor. It is Cinderella Man, directed by Ron Howard and starring Renee Zellwegger and Russell Crowe. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s no great shakes either. But it’s a story with a hero, a guy who acts nobly both in public and in private, unlike the characters in any of the pictures nominated for this year’s Best Movie. (By the way, the fifth movie nominated in this category is Capote, which is most effective at showing what a conniving little user Capote really was.)
Cinderella Man is about the boxer Jim Braddock, a promising fighter who fell on hard times and ended up working on the New Jersey docks during the Depression. The movie shows how he was a devoted family man with traditional values during a difficult time. When money was so scarce that his wife was watering the milk, he still makes one of his hungry boys return some food the kid had stolen. When he is down on his luck and can’t get a job, he takes money, with great shame, from the government. Then, when he is boxing again and earning more, he returns the money to the welfare office. Sure, the movie is full of such old-fashion clichés, but let’s not forget that it isn’t only in tearjerkers that people act that way.
Through a series of flukes, Braddock gets a chance at the heavyweight title against a nasty fighter named Max Baer, a boxer whose punches had already killed a couple of opponents in the ring. He’s the 10-to-1 underdog, and on the night of the fight, all his neighbors are in church praying (and listening to the radio the priest brings in). Yes, Braddock did win and was champion for a couple of years, until Joe Louis knocked him out. Then he joined the Army as a lieutenant and served on Saipan. The truth is, I didn’t like the movie as much as I liked the guy. But at least I had someone to like. Cinderella Man didn’t make much money, and I suppose it’s considered a flop. But none of the other movies nominated for the Oscar have made much money, and everyone in Hollywood seems to be congratulating the producers and directors for making them.
As it turned out, Brokeback Mountain did win most of the awards at the BAFTA ceremony, which was held in London last Sunday night. But there were a couple of cheery surprises. George “Bad Night and Bad Luck” Clooney left empty handed. And the Best British Film award was won, not by the sanctimonious Constant Gardener, but by Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit. At least the British Academy, unlike ours, still seems to have a sense of humor.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.